With the excitement of spring in full bloom, you might be remiss to forget that on the 28th of September, it’s World Rabies Day. Although this doesn’t call for a reason to celebrate, it is an opportunity to create awareness around rabies in South Africa. There are around 600 – 900 reported rabies cases in South Africa annually, excluding all the numbers that go unrecorded. To minimise the risks of this viral disease, it’s important to educate yourself on the signs, causes and realities of rabies.
Rabies symptoms in your dog
Rabies affects all warm-blooded animals, including humans, and the most common cause of rabies in humans is through dog bites. The rabies virus affects your dog’s brain and influences their general demeanour. If a dog is infected, he will appear aggressive and vicious. Signs that the rabies virus might have infected a dog include fever, seizures, paralysis, a dropped jaw, unusual shyness or aggression, excessive salivation or frothy saliva and lack of coordination. If you see any of these rabies symptoms or you suspect, for any reason, that a dog may be suffering from rabies, it’s vital that you contact a veterinarian immediately. If the animal is acting aggressive or vicious, contact animal control to assist you, to avoid getting an infected wound yourself.
Who to contact?
- Local State Veterinarian
- National Institute for Communicable Disease (Human exposures): 24-hour Doctor on call Tel: 082 883 9920
- Allerton Provincial Veterinary Laboratory (Animals) Tel: (033) 347 6200
- OIE Regional Rabies Reference Centre for Southern and Eastern Africa (Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute) (Animals) Tel: (012) 529 9440
- Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Directorate Veterinary Services Tel: (012) 319 7456
Types of Rabies
As soon as you hear the word ‘rabies’ the first image that comes to mind might be a rabid, drooling at the mouth, vicious animal, resembling absolutely nothing of your gentle, loving pet. There is, however, more to the madness than one might initially think.
There are two types of rabies: Paralytic and furious. In the first stage of both types, your dog will show mild symptoms or abnormalities. After approximately three days, most dogs progress to either paralytic rabies, furious rabies or a combination of both. As soon as these symptoms start, the virus progresses rapidly.
Furious Rabies: Furious rabies is identified by extreme behavioural changes. Usually, the infected animal will display extreme aggression and revert to attack mode at random times.
Paralytic Rabies: This type of rabies is also known as ‘dumb’ rabies. It weakens the dog and is followed by extreme loss of coordination and then paralysis.
When a person has been exposed:
- All animal exposures must be assessed for potential rabies virus exposure and whether rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is required.
- The assessment is based on behaviour and health status (including rabies vaccination history) of the animal, animal species and geographical location where the animal is from/exposure occurred.
- High-risk rabies incidents may include: unprovoked animal attack, an animal with unusual behaviour, e.g.: domestic animals becoming aggressive or wild animals appearing “tame,” the animal appears sick, e.g. drooling, wobbling/unsteady gait, snapping at imaginary objects, animal having died within two weeks after the human attack.
- If the incident suggests potential rabies virus exposure, give rabies PEP, see below.
Type of exposure:
If you suspect that you have been exposed to a rabid animal seek medical attention immediately.
Wounds do not have to be large/bleed profusely to be considered as Type 3. A single drop of blood from the wound indicates a Type 3 exposure. For example, bat bites are usually only small, deep puncture wounds without overt bleeding.
Type 2 exposures imply superficial scratches or nicks with no break in the skin or bleeding.
When a dog has been exposed:
If your dog has been vaccinated against the rabies virus, the disease shouldn’t affect him or her, however, if you think your dog has been exposed to rabies contact your vet immediately as additional boosters are advised. It’s important to note that getting a rabies vaccination for your dog is required by law. According to the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA), and Government Regulations, the rabies vaccination should be repeated every three years, provided they received their initial set of puppy vaccinations. However, discuss the rabies situation in your area with your veterinarian to determine the best vaccination protocol for your dog. Ask your vet about Nobivac® Rabies.
For more on vaccinations for your dog, have a look at our article on vaccinations schedules for puppies by clicking here.